A Trip to the Pro-Russian Pseudo-State of Luhansk
The war is essentially over in eastern Ukraine, but peace hasn’t yet begun. A visit to the self-proclaimed mini-state known as the People’s Republic of Luhansk shows that the road back to normality is long and full of obstacles.
Alexey Karyakin, born in 1980, is one of the fathers of the People’s Republic and was the first president of its parliament — though there are no political parties in parliament, with all of them having been banned. There are only “movements.” One of them is called “Freedom for Luhansk” and the other is the “Economic Union.”
The fact that Karyakin is still alive is anything but a given. The People’s Republic has been run with mafia methods. One Luhansk “prime minister” was apparently tortured to death in prison while several military leaders have died in arson attacks. Karyakin also had to flee Luhansk for a time.
The situation has calmed significantly since a 2017 coup. Plus, what happens in Luhansk is ultimately decided by curators in the Kremlin anyway. Karyakin is now head of the “Public Chamber of the People’s Republic of Luhansk,” a largely ceremonial position. A portrait of Vladimir Putin hangs on the wall above his desk.
The younger ones move away from Luhansk, some to Russia and others to Ukraine. “In 2014, we fell out with many friends,” says one married couple who didn’t share the pro-Russia enthusiasm many felt at the time. “The euphoria has since vanished, which makes things easier for us. But now, everybody avoids politics altogether. Essentially, we are waiting, but we don’t know what for.”
They say they would long since have left if it wasn’t so difficult to sell their apartment in Luhansk. At the same time, it hurts them that many in Ukraine see them as traitors just because they’ve stayed.
‘It felt as if we had landed on the moon’: Malala Yousafzai on life in the UK
hose early days in Birmingham reminded me of being internally displaced in Pakistan – except the faces, the food, and the language here were foreign.
We were comfortable, we were being well taken care of – but it had not been our choice to come here and we missed home.
Cossacks’ faith as identity
It’s about Russia, not God
The Russian Orthodox Church, which sees the Kiev patriarchate as a rival, cannot afford to alienate the 75% of the Ukrainian population who remain faithful to it: this is one of the few cases in which Moscow has not been able to count on the support of the Church.
Most Cossacks approve of the synergy between Church and state, which normally runs smoothly. But a few see it as a sign that the lessons of the past have been forgotten, something close to a betrayal. One young man showed me photographs of his great-great-grandparents, who were killed or died in exile after the Soviet authorities deported them in the 1920s.
Alexey Lebedev, a Cossack and priest of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, was just as angry: ‘When someone tells you that anyone who believes in Orthodoxy has a duty to defend the state, he is repeating the religious line dictated by Vladimir Putin. Patriarch Kirill’s Church isn’t really a religious organisation, it’s just a department of the Kremlin in charge of Orthodox affairs.’
WHEN IT’S TOO LATE TO STOP FASCISM, ACCORDING TO STEFAN ZWEIG
During the early years of Hitler’s rise, Zweig was at the height of his career, and a renowned champion of causes that sought to promote solidarity among European nations. He called for the founding of an international university with branches in all the major European capitals, with a rotating exchange program intended to expose young people to other communities, ethnicities, and religions. He was only too aware that the nationalistic passions expressed in the First World War had been compounded by new racist ideologies in the intervening years. The economic hardship and sense of humiliation that the German citizenry experienced as a consequence of the Versailles Treaty had created a pervasive resentment that could be enlisted to fuel any number of radical, bloodthirsty projects.
They took him neither seriously nor literally. Even into the nineteen-thirties, “the big democratic newspapers, instead of warning their readers, reassured them day by day, that the movement . . . would inevitably collapse in no time.” Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”
Eventually, even well-meaning journalists and intellectuals became guilty of what he called “the ‘doping’ of excitement”—an artificial incitement of emotion that culminated, inevitably, in mass hatred and fear. Describing the healthy uproar that ensued after one artist’s eloquent outcry against the war in the autumn of 1914, Zweig observed that, at that point, “the word still had power. It had not yet been done to death by the organization of lies, by ‘propaganda.’ “
Propaganda both whipped up Hitler’s base and provided cover for his regime’s most brutal aggressions. It also allowed truth seeking to blur into wishful thinking, as Europeans’ yearning for a benign resolution to the global crisis trumped all rational skepticism.